New law puts alcohol and drugs on an equal footing in roadside checks for impaired driving, and promises to reduce driving "high"



    OTTAWA, June 25 /CNW Telbec/ - The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
(CCSA), Canada's national addictions agency, welcomes new legislation set to
go into effect on July 2 that, for the first time in Canada, establishes
parity between drug- and alcohol-impaired driving under the law. Bill C-2, the
Tackling Violent Crime Act, comes into force after a decade of rising rates of
drug-impaired driving in Canada.
    Canadian studies indicate that drugs, often in combination with alcohol,
are detected in up to 30% of fatally injured drivers. CCSA's 2004 Canadian
Addiction Survey found 5% of Canadian drivers admitted to driving within two
hours of using cannabis-a 50% increase since 1989. Among 16-18 year olds, 21%
reported driving after using cannabis, slightly higher than the 20% of their
peers who reported driving after alcohol use.
    "Such findings suggest that the drugs-and-driving problem is by no means
insignificant and appears to be increasing," said CCSA Manager of Research and
Policy Doug Beirness.
    Mandatory roadside checks for alcohol impairment are recognized as having
a deterrent effect on drinking and driving because of the perceived risk of
being caught and charged. However, before Bill C-2, a police officer who
suspected a driver of being impaired by drugs could only request that the
driver undergo voluntary testing and there was no sanction if the driver
refused. This left officers with little chance of pursuing a conviction on the
basis of drug-impaired driving.
    "As a result, many drug-impaired drivers have been risking their own
safety and the safety of others because they believed they would not be
caught," said Beirness.
    Beginning July 2, refusing a roadside drug test will be equivalent to
declining a breath test for alcohol and will be subject to the same sanctions.
Refusing to take a breath test is a Criminal Code offence.
    "The legislation clarifies that you must comply with demands from police
to assess whether you are impaired, and if you refuse, you are subject to the
same penalties," said RCMP Cpl. Evan Graham, National Coordinator, Drug
Evaluation and Classification Program, Traffic Services.
    The new legislation empowers Canadian police who suspect a driver of
being impaired by any drug, illegal, prescription or over the counter, to
conduct a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, a roadside test of physical
coordination. If found to be impaired, the driver must submit to a mandatory
Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) assessment, a 12-step process that
requires the driver to provide a bodily fluid sample (blood, saliva or urine).
The DEC is conducted by a Drug Recognition Expert, a DEC-trained community
police officer, and takes 45-60 minutes to complete.
    "In this way, Bill C-2 has the potential to reduce the harms associated
with drugs by enabling police officers to remove dangerous drivers from
Canadian roads, whether they are impaired by drugs or alcohol," said Beirness.
    The DEC program has been operating in Canada for 13 years, but only in
cases where drivers agree to participate. Research on the DEC program,
including studies conducted by CCSA staff, has established the accuracy and
reliability of this method in determining impairment from a variety of drugs
and drug combinations.
    Impaired drivers will face new penalties under the law, including a fine
of not less than $1,000 for the first offence, and imprisonment for the second
offence of not less than 30 days and not less than 120 days for each
subsequent offence.
    Impaired drivers who cause an accident can face a maximum 10-year
sentence in the case of causing bodily harm, and a life sentence in the case
of causing death.
    Anyone convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs,
alcohol or both will be prohibited from driving a vehicle for one to three
years for the first offence and two to five years for the second offence.
    "We hope that by creating awareness of the new legislation, its tests and
penalties, we can prevent Canadians from getting behind the wheel while
they're impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both," said Beirness.
    For additional background information, please <a href="http://www.ccsa.ca/NR/rdonlyres/00F1E94B-A5E4-4088-9E9D-417F28087E98/0/ccsabckgrd20080625e.pdf">click here</a>.

    About CCSA

    With a legislated mandate to reduce alcohol- and other drug-related
harms, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse provides leadership on national
priorities, fosters knowledge translation within the field, and creates
sustainable partnerships that maximize collective efforts. CCSA receives
funding support from Health Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Heather Wilcox, Communications Advisor,
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, (613) 235-4048, ext. 243, Mobile: (613)
291-9165, hwilcox@ccsa.ca


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